This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
Samuel complains that the demands of his wife for expenses (very many of them household, not personal) leave him very little money for socialising outside the home. Even if the incomes of male white-colour workers were increasing at a rate slightly above the rate of inflation, as some historians claim, this as a period of rapid change, with consequently increased expectations: for many, an inside WC, a bath, gas lighting and more household equipment, public transport to and from work, etc., all promoted by prolific advertising. Arguably salaries were inadequate when judged against new expectations. The national economy was not buoyant during these years. No. 171 (21st February 1891), whiich is entitled ‘Samuel on Inadequate Salaries’, seeks an economic reason why the age of marriage is increasing and its rate declining. He notes the fortunes being made by employers, but totally ignores the rising level of employment of unmarried women in white-collar roles, on pay well below that of their male colleagues [see Heller].
It is worth noting that the promotional activities mentioned by Samuel were not new in 1889. As early as 1857-61, Anthony Trollope had based a short novel on them: The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson by one of the firm, published in the Cornhill Magazine from 1861 to 1862. The illustrations add significantly to the piece. The first highlights Samuel’s alcohol consumption, the second the cost of changing fashion (attributed it to women’s immaturity), while the third infantilises women’s demands for fairer economic treatment.
Barkis is willin' is a message in Dickens’s David Copperfield, entrusted to the juvenile David by Barkis, the carrier, to deliver to Miss Peggotty, in place of as a face-to-face proposal of marriage. As so often, Samuel deploys some phrases from the age of Shakespeare in his narrative language: ‘It likes me well’ from The Taming of the Shrew , and ‘I do conjure you ‘ from various pays, including The Duchess of Malfi . —David Skilton
‘Nuisance, bugbears, sir; life is full of ‘em: things want putting right, sir,’ – vide Samuel with a disordered liver.
UCH a lot of them there are, too, sir. Bugbears I mean –‘black beasts,’ as the French call them. Look, for instance, at the firm that ill is ‘selling off.’ ‘Nothing to complain of in a man or a firm selling off,’ I hear you say. Oh, isn't there, that's all! I'm a married man, and I know it, and I know when any firm (of drapers especially) in this town is selling off – Mrs Samuel takes care that I shall know. You shall hear. A tradesman announces in gigantic bills on the walls that he is ‘Selling Off’ (as though he were not ‘selling off’ all the year round if he have any trade at all), and he sends round a number of seedy-looking men who have given up insurance agency and selling books in parts that seem likely to extend to the millennium – seedy-looking men who thrust elaborately descriptive bills under the doors of respectable householders, or who, when they get a bit tired of ‘livering’ these piecemeal, so to speak, throw about a hundred or so at a time down areas and then go home with the gratifying assurance that they have finished early that day. The tradesman sends round these men with the announcement that he is holding his ‘Annual Clearance Sale’ (‘Sell’ would be better, eh?), and then he placards his windows with lengthy ‘streamers’ with such seductive catch phrases inscribed upon them as ‘Alarming Sacrifice,’ ‘Must be Sold,’ ‘Unheard of Bargains,’ ‘Such an Opportunity will never Occur Again,’ ‘Sold at a Dead Loss,’ and the like; and then he looks up all his fly blown and mouldy stock artistically arranges a few most attractive-looking articles in the windows, labels these at fabulously low prices, and is ready to begIn, good old spider that he is. This is his Annual Sale, of course – he generally has about eight of 'em in a year. Or he has bought up a ‘Bankrupt Stock, and can now offer to the Public the Cheapest Line in Bibs and Baby Linen ever Tendered to the Discriminating Purchaser.’ Sometimes he is ‘Declining Business,’ which always strikes me, my most approved good master, as a very dubious phrase indeed. Does it signify that the business is declining, or that the public decline to do business with the tradesman, or that the tradesman declines to do business with the public – tell me, I do conjure you?
Emmeline Jane Ann’s new hat that she wants a new sunshade to protect. Highly hat-attractive.
But it is really all the same to me -- it sets Mrs Samuel on the qui vive, and my misery commences, my bug- bear is introduced. ‘Oh, Samuel,’ she says, in an airy, passing, lightly-descriptive sort of way, ‘I see that Fents and Fugles are selling off – wouldn't this be the time, as you are drawing that money on Thursday, to buy a few little things cheap? I looked in the window, and I'm sure it is quite surprising how cheaply things are going. Aurora wants a frock and a new hat and a silk sash badly; Sardanapalus Levi has scarcely a stocking to his foot, poor boy; and as for Emmeline Jane Ann, you can tell she is badly in want of an umbrella, for she daren't put up the one she now has even to protect her best bonnet, and John James wants some new shirts, and I want a few – [’] ‘Very well,’ I say, ‘wait till I get the money and then we'll talk about it.’ ‘Yes, it's just like you, is that; always putting off; and all the best things will be sold in a day or two. One of the assistants told Mrs Tattler an only this I morning.’ It is highly probable, sir, that the ‘money to be drawn on Thursday’ is but a freak of the imagination, a pious, though essentially hollow, fraud which I have palmed off for the sake of peace and quiet, but I know that my bugbear has begun to stalk rampant, and will not be exorcised so long as the ‘Fearful Sacrifice’ Sale continues. If I turn up a portion of the money, this of course is found to be lamentably insufficient, and I am disparagingly referred to as a ‘greedy hunks, a [‘]nasty selfish thing, or an idle, shiftless man who will not provide for his family like other men,’ and my pecuniary position is contrasted in a manner most unfavourable to myself with that of the several and respective husbands of my wife's near relations. And all this comes of these ‘sacrificial’ sales, where I am sacrificed with a vengeance.
Sometimes Mrs Samuel says, gazing into the windows of such a shop when she has money in her purse (which money, be it said. was intended to be devoted to another purpose entirely), ‘I think I'll just go in and buy a few reels of cotton and see what they're got in the way of bargains inside.’ I know what that means. It means the affable shopman, who reels off with the glibness and vocal dexterity of a ‘patter’ artiste in the music-halls a long, and to the feminine ear attractive, list of household articles and objects of personal adornment which the firm of that fluent young man can sell cheaper than dirt, and the upshot generally is the woman who goes into such a shop for sixpenny-worth of goods comes out with a couple of pounds' worth. No wonder I detest selling-off folks, good sir; no wonder that I wring my hands and tear such locks as remain to me after being married so long when I see the garish, hideous announcements of ‘Clearance Sales’ on the hoardings. Clearance sales, indeed; where they are mentioned it is generally myself that does the clearance.
‘Boo-hoo, hoo; here the toy-shop’s selling off, and I ain’t got no pennies.’
I have another bugbear and grievance, sir, in the matter of your own office, which seems lately, so far as your employés are concerned, to have resolved itself into a mutual giving of presents place. Some old servant in your employ is always getting married, or going abroad, or doing something else that is clever and desperate, and this is immediately seized upon by my misguided fellow-workers as an excuse for a subscription and a present. It is a dreadful bugbear to me. Were the smallest office lad to leave to-morrow, I veritably believe that I should be requested to subscribe towards a humming-top or a penn'-orth of ‘bulls' eyes’ for him. I am not wanting in regard for my fellow employees, but when those subscription-lists come out I am placed in an awkward position. My purse cannot keep pace with my regard – that is, unless I am prepared to stalk, pocket-moneyless and refreshmentless, through the land for whole days at a stretch. And I don't like to see my juniors in the way of service figuring boldly in the subscription list whilst I am left out. A man gets married, we will say, and the list comes round as usual. That young man probably went and got married despite my most earnest conjurations and with his eyes open; why should I make him a present for disregarding my advice? Personally, sir, I am very fond of that young man, we will say; no one wishes him better than I do; and I think a great deal of him, so I have waived my rule about putting my name down for a big sum – and never turning it up – in his case; I have, in fact, by way of a present, forgiven him the three separate half-crowns I owe him, and I am sure be will respect the sacrifice. I really think, sir, that as soon as the memory of the very latest subscription has in some measure died out, I shall pretend to give you notice to leave, appoint a day when I can meet all my fellow-employees in order that I may bid them a long farewell before departing for a foreign strand – (the Strand in London will be more my form) – and see what they we prepared to give me. But I have not forgotten what is due to me even as it is, sir, I have had my share of the subscriptions by borrowing money all round. It likes me well, my potent employer, does that plan.
The affable gent in front of the house, full of ef-frontery.
The average acting manager attached to a dramatic show is yet another of my favourite bugbears – the gentleman with the faultless dress suit, the great desert of shirt front relieved by an oasis of dubious diamond stud, the suave ‘deah-boy’ manner, and the confidential whispers. He pounces on a member of the press, admitted in order that he may review the play, with a face wreathed in smiles and a greeting calculated to inspire the scribe with the impression that the ‘man-in-front’ has waited for years with the one engrossing object of meeting him in particular. And then, should the invitation to partake of stimulants thrown out by the guileful dramatic pew-opener be accepted, how eloquent he does wax touching the merits of the show which he represents in general and his own in particular. He delicately and modestly points out to you that a reference to himself in the usual terms, ‘courteous and energetic business representative,’ ‘obliging gentleman in front,’ etc., would not alone be highly appreciated by the public, but by himself. He does not forget either, sir, during the period when a very palpable weak spot in the piece he is travelling with is being shown on the stage, to send round an attendant to request that you will just then step round to him in order to be introduced to the charming Miss Leatherlungs, the leading lady, this of course being done in order that your attention may be diverted from the evident fault of the piece. And, oh, how dreadfully uncomfortable does he not make me feel by his little efforts at flattery, his reference to the harm you might do the show (thus conveying the mightiness of your powers as a wielder of the pen), and his pressing invitation to come round every evening. The Saints save me from the blandishments of such a man. Then amongst bugbears, my impatient editor, I must class – but; eh? No more space; dry up; all right, ‘Barkis is willin'.’
Heller, Michael. ‘Work, income and stability: The late Victorian and Edwardian London male clerk revisited’, Business History 50 (3) 2008: 253–71.
Last modified 6 March 2022